Rupture and Repair

Rupture is inevitable in our relationships. Particularly in our close relationships, rupture is painful, and we go to lengths to avoid it. A rupture is a disruption or conflict that creates a disconnect– this can range from minor misunderstandings to significant arguments or breaches of trust. Ruptures are unavoidable because we all have our own perspectives, emotions, and experiences. Differences and disagreements are inevitable. It is not the existence of these ruptures that defines the health of a relationship but rather how we address and mend them.

This is not new– intellectually, we all know that rupture is inevitable. Yet we often act as though it is something that can and should be avoided, and we go to great lengths to avoid a rupture. We dance around uncomfortable topics, and avoid discussions that will lead to ill feelings. Rupture is painful– and the more we care about and are connected to the person, the more painful the rupture is. None of us want to be disconnected in our most important relationships.

However, this fear of rupture often leads to situations where we avoid necessary conflict, which in turn breeds resentment and frustration. Ironically, the more this builds up, the larger the inevitable rupture will likely become. One of the reasons we fear this rupture so much is because many of us do not have good role models– particularly in the families we grow up in. Instead, we see people having constant conflict, but never really coming together in the wake of that conflict. Or perhaps, rather than coming together to repair the rupture, things slowly resolve after a few days, without any real active repair process. Lastly, parents will have conflict behind closed doors because they “don’t want the kids to see us fighting.” From the child’s perspective though, the parents never fight, and so the lesson learned is that rupture and conflict is not a normal part of relationships.

Repair is the process through which we heal these disruptions, and in the process, strengthen our relationships. Repairing a rupture involves acknowledging the issue, taking responsibility, and working collaboratively together to heal the rift. While it is tempting to assign blame (and it often feels good and righteous to catalog the myriad of ways we’ve been wronged), it is not helpful. In fact, often the most helpful first step is to take responsibility for our role in the rupture, whatever that may be. Acknowledging responsibility demonstrates our commitment to the relationship and our willingness to be vulnerable and work on repair. Sometimes this includes offering a sincere apology– and it also involves being able to accept this apology. Repair requires that we listen to the other person’s perspective without becoming defensive, demonstrating that we value their feelings and are open to change.

Repair is a collaborative process, and fundamentally, is not something that we can do alone. It takes two to have a relationship, two to rupture a relationship, and two to repair a relationship. This process requires empathy, courage, and patience. Effective repair leads to stronger, more resilient relationships.

While a rupture in a relationship feels bad, the experience of repairing a rupture feels good. Every time we successfully repair a rupture, we gain confidence that our relationship can survive adversity. Equally importantly, every time we successfully repair a rupture in our relationship, our fear of a rupture falls– which allows us to approach our relationships with more openness and honesty. This decreased fear of ruptures and increased confidence in our ability to repair ironically decreases the likelihood of future ruptures, and makes it likely that future ruptures will be less significant.

It is asking a lot to view a rupture as a growth opportunity– but that is what it is. It is in the uncomfortable spaces that we grow, and rupture is uncomfortable. It is natural that we avoid it. But rupture is also inevitable– the question is not if it is going to happen, the question is what do we do when it happens. When we acknowledge this reality, we can then also recognize that the ability to repair rupture is essential to our relationships.The more confident we are in the fact that our relationships can survive rupture, and then can be repaired, more our relationships can be based on honesty– and therefore, the the stronger they will be.


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